Best of 2013: Best albums of 2013

Our Music team rounds up the year's choicest releases, including LPs from breakout pop stars, resurgent metal titans, country songbirds and, oh yeah, some guy named Kanye West.

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Steve Smith's top 10 albums of 2013

  • 10. Aaron Diehl, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative

    On his eagerly anticipated debut album as a bandleader, pianist Diehl played explicit homage to the Modern Jazz Quartet, enlisting a sublimely supportive rhythm section and a rousing foil in vibraphonist Warren Wolf, with results as natty as the title promised.

  • 9. Haim, Days Are Gone

    Any savvy ’80s-music connoisseur could pick out all the ingredients in this California trio’s gumbo—a touch of Michael Jackson, a pinch of Bangles, a spoonful of Eagles, a generous dash of solo-era Stevie Nicks—which didn’t make the mix any less appealing.

  • 8. Carcass, Surgical Steel

    Grindcore veterans who invented the ruthless-thrash-plus-irresistible-hooks formula that countless other bands went on to make hay with, Bill Steer and Jeff Walker rode the momentum of a brilliantly successful 2007 reunion tour into an airtight new lineup, waxing an album that asserted its proprietary mastery with compulsive glee.

  • 7. Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

    In a year that brought superb storytelling from Pusha T and Ka as well as brashly arranged sets from Chance the Rapper and Migos (not to mention His Yeezusness), this prodigious Odd Future fabulist returned from exile with a dense, dizzying mix of talky raps and druggy tracks that paradoxically cohered into something that passed for honesty.

  • Photograph: Joe Grossmann

    6. Dayna Stephens, That Nepenthetic Place

    Busy tenor saxophonist Stephens released two albums this year (the other was I’ll Take My Chances), and this was the older session of the two. Still, the largely original program said the most about Stephens’s writing chops: both for a limber quartet and also for a robust combo featuring Gretchen Parlato, Jaleel Shaw and Ambrose Akinmusire.

  • 5. Steven Wilson, The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)

    With its airy flute solos, grouchy saxophone, fiery guitar, cosmic keys and machine-gun rhythm section, this album reminded you that Wilson is the unrepentant king of modern prog; listen without prejudice, though, and you’ll encounter the year’s most sweepingly gorgeous, touching musical mythologizing.

  • 4. Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady

    Science-fiction metastories held firm on artfully quirky funk diva Monáe’s second full-length (and then some) LP, but if you listened as hard as she worked, you couldn’t miss her broadening stylistic range and deepening topical perspectives among all the fancy star turns by Prince (!), Erykah, Solange and Miguel.

  • 3. Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park

    Arguably the most genuinely groundbreaking country album of the year, Same Trailer Different Park limned the finest nuances of making a life in Grassroots USA circa now, with dreams of better days lent penetrating force by Musgraves’s crystalline voice and memorable tunes.

  • 2. Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose

    A sweetly thrilling, occasionally heartbreaking voice of experience to Kacey Musgraves’s clued-in innocence, Monroe teamed up with producer Vince Gill for this platterful of lived-in stories about women coping with bad economic times and worse romantic prospects, saturated with heart, humor and sunny warmth.

  • 1. Black Sabbath, 13

    Despite years of inconsistent lineups and wavering inspiration, as well as what could have been a deal-breaking split with drummer Bill Ward, three founding Sabs decisively reclaimed their heavy-metal throne—and Ozzy’s long-lost dignity—with a brooding epic redolent of past glories yet solidly of the moment.

10. Aaron Diehl, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative

On his eagerly anticipated debut album as a bandleader, pianist Diehl played explicit homage to the Modern Jazz Quartet, enlisting a sublimely supportive rhythm section and a rousing foil in vibraphonist Warren Wolf, with results as natty as the title promised.

Listen to the top tracks from Steve Smith's best albums of 2013 on Spotify



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Listen to tracks from 2013's best albums on Spotify

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